- Sunday Funday! Because of the festivities the night before, we got a little bit of a late start. The group met together in the hotel lobby, and walked to Yang’s Dumplings (again!). It was surprisingly good hangover food, and we felt ready to take on a day of tourism after our meal. We took the metro train to the Jing’an Temple, which was
a short ride from Nanjing Road. Shanghai is literally the land of many malls, which means that this Buddhist Temple was directly across the street from one. We paid entry into the gilded top plaza, and walked into the center of it. Paula taught me the traditional way to pray, lighting incense from the small fire and bowing in front of the main temple. We walked up the steps to the temple and marveled at how gorgeous it was. Each smaller room surrounding it was equally as beautiful. Of course there was a gift shop, a very expensive one, which we perused and then moved on. We decided to take the train to the Jade Buddha Temple from there. When we arrived at the closest train station, we were lost. The surrounding area gave no indication of housing such a famous temple. Luckily for us, a very kind, English-speaking local offered assistance and walked us all the way to the Jade Buddha Temple (not a short walk).
Once we were inside (we had to pay to get in again, of course), we walked into the courtyard and were overwhelmed with the smell of incense. The whole area was decorated with red lanterns for Chinese New Year. The first temple was lined with statues of the different Buddhist figures, all in gold. The namesake of the temple, the Jade Buddha, was in the back of the temple area, in its own building. We paid a little extra to go in the building, and walked up to the room where it was kept. We were not allowed to take pictures, but I can assure you that the statue was beautiful. After we left the temple, we found our way back to the metro station all on our own. We did have to walk through some interesting areas to get there, but we were proud of ourselves nonetheless. Later that evening, a few of us took a cab to the Han City Fashion Plaza, the legendary fake market. It was definitely an interesting experience. You go in, and you recognize all these popular, high-end brands and see that everything is so cheap so you get really excited. Then, you remember that everything is fake. I bought a fake YSL purse, which looked really good, but after I bought it I realized the inside smelled like tires. Which is cool, if you’re into that sort of thing. It was still very fun to walk around and haggle with the vendors. Some of them get very aggressive, and chase you down the aisle yelling at you to come back. Getting a taxi back to the hotel was also an interesting experience; it took a while to finally get one to stop, and once it did, people ran in front of us and got in and off it went. Finally, we got one to stop and managed to get in before someone else stole it. Paula and I went back to our room and ordered room service and took it easy for the rest of the night.
- February 16 will go on in history to be the day that I tripped down the stairs in front of the Hotel Manager. He played it off well, but I was mortified. It took me the whole work day to get over my embarrassment, especially because my Shanghai colleague would not let me live it down. A few of my Chicago colleagues and I were invited to participate in a video they were filming for their staff holiday party. We all went up to their penthouse suite and stood around until it was our turn to say “Happy New Year from Chicago!” and then we through fake money in the air. Then we left. After work, Lucia, another Shanghai colleague, took Paula and me out on the town. Together, we walked down Nanjing road and stopped at a take-out window for these amazing little pork pies. Lucia told us that the shop was famous for them, and the line was usually very long. We walked for a little while longer and came to a food mall, where Lucia wanted to take us to have dinner. The food court in the food mall had a unique set up. There were many vendors, all in a line and we looked at what each one had to offer (all of their dishes were made of plastic food and set out in front of their station). Then, we ordered at a counter, telling them which items we wanted from which vendors. We received a receipt, and then went to each vendor and got what we ordered from them. We had Shanghainese noodles, wonton soup, dumplings, and a few other items. After dinner, we set out to find an underground shopping market, which was accessible through the subway. It took us a little while to find it, as we had to find the exact Subway entrance (among many) in People’s Square that would lead us to the stores. But once we did find it, we had a great time browsing through the little shops filled with jewelry, make-up, toys, and clothing. After we shopped, we parted ways with Lucia. Paula and I walked home along Nanjing Road and enjoyed the scenery and beautiful weather.
- On our ninth day in Shanghai, we received an amazing tour of the kitchen during work, led by Chef Terrence, who used to work with us in Chicago. The hotel was built from the ground up, so the layout of the kitchens were impeccable. There are three restaurants in the hotel, and each had their own kitchen, plus a banquet kitchen for events. The kitchen area for the Chinese restaurant on site, Yi Long Court, had its own small aquarium of fresh fish and shellfish (for eating, of course). Chef took us through all of them and explained all of the elements of each of them with the passion of a man who loves his job. After another shorter day of work, Carlos and I took a taxi to the Dongtai Road Antique Market. It was similar to antique markets in the States in that there were just mountains of items in each booth spilling over onto the street. There were a lot of mahjong sets, playing cards with naked ladies, “jade” statues, TinTin comics, and much more. We meandered through the streets that made up the market, but didn’t buy anything. We walked to the nearest metro, gambling that it would take us in the right direction, and got lucky. We found one going to People’s Square, which was a (long-ish) walk from the hotel. I made us stop back at the meat pie stand that Lucia took us to the night before, because I just couldn’t resist. We parted ways to get ready for our long awaited Hot Pot dinner with the Shanghai HR team. Paula and I decided to look our very best, which resulted in us being the very last to arrive at the schedule meeting spot. Once there, we hopped into hotel vans and went to Hai Di Lao, an interactive Hot Pot restaurant. We had a private dining room, and let the HR team order whatever they thought was best. Hot Pot is a style of dining where there is a literal hot pot in the middle of the table, filled with broth or broths (we had one mild and one VERY spicy). Ingredients, like meats, vegetables and noodles, are added into the broth at the table by the diners to be cooked. Once we started eating, we heard music and clapping in the main dining room, so we poked our heads out to see what was going on. A group of people, servers and diners alike, were dancing in the aisle to a popular Chinese song, called “Little Apple” (by Chopsticks). We all clapped when they were done and went back to our table. Before we knew what had hit us, the energetic host was in our dining room pressing play on the same song and beckoning us to do the dance with him too. We did our very best to keep up; it was a lot of choreography. We all collapsed into our chairs when it was over, breathing heavy from the dance and from laughing so hard. We went on eating and chatting, until another entertainer joined us: The Noodle Maker. He greeted us, then took a round of dough and began doing a lovely little ribbon dance with it, stretching it out into long strands. He then cut the strands into normal noodle-size and threw them in our hot pot. The noodles were delicious, so much so that we called for an encore performance. When we thought we were done with dinner, one of the lovely HR ladies pulled out a plate of pig brains, that I suspect they ordered just to gross us out. She put them in the hot pot, and we discussed who was brave enough to eat them. I am not the bravest person I know, but I did manage to try the brains, and… even now, I can’t think about the texture of them without gagging a little. We left the restaurant soon after, and made our way to a fancy karaoke joint, where we once again had a private room (which is the only way they do karaoke in China). I sang a few Taylor Swift and Beyonce songs, and tried not to subject the group to too much of my singing. One of the HR ladies, Janet, had a beautiful singing voice, and sang a few songs for us in Mandarin. After we sang, we went back to the hotel, and some of us walked down the Bund to the Latin Bar, Unico. We had a round of mojitos and danced to the live band, then called it a night.
- Chinese New Year’s Eve: We all worked in the morning; afterwards I met up with one of my Chicago colleagues to try and get presents for the wonderful people who were responsible for sending us to Shanghai. Because of the holiday, everywhere we tried to go, which was quite a few locations, was closed. As a result, we came back to the hotel with our heads down, feeling very defeated. We decided to order room service and drown our sorrows in cheeseburgers. Soon, everyone joined us in mine and Paula’s room, and we perked up some. We decided we needed to celebrate the holiday too, so we got some booze and hung out in the room until almost midnight.
We then headed out onto the Bund to see the festivities. We were a little nervous that there wouldn’t be any, because of the accident that took place on the Bund on the calendar New Year’s Eve (in China, they celebrate Lunar New Year more so than the calendar New Year). To our delight, there were fireworks all around, and that combined with the beautiful Shanghai skyline was quite the sight to take in. The view completely made up for the disappointment earlier, and I went back to the hotel room feeling overjoyed.
- New Year’s Day: We were lucky enough to be invited to the Bison ceremony in the lobby of the hotel, which usually only the executive committee of the hotel are invited to attend. The Feng Shui master led the ceremony as each of the executive committee took turns standing in front of a table to light incense and pray. We were all able to participate in the ceremony, and took our turn praying for good fortune in the New Year. After the ceremony, we walked over to a Starbucks near the hotel and had their New Year’s special, a Peach Blossom Latte (which tasted like hot, frothy strawberry milk, yum!). We went back to the hotel to watch the Lion Dance, which started outside, in the driveway with a group of drummers and a single lion. We watched them play and then ran up to the balcony that overlooks the lobby to have the best view of the main Lion Dance. I have honestly never seen anything like it. The lions danced and jumped onto stilted platforms, jumping from one to the other and balancing (there are two men in each lion suit, mind you). The drums and symbols were deafeningly loud but everyone was completely focused on the dance. I loved seeing everyone, guests and employees both, in the spirit of this traditional holiday. We did our best to be absorbed in the culture of it, and all wore red to show solidarity with the holiday (red is a lucky color in China). Overall, the dance is supposed to bring good fortune (of course) to the hotel and the people in it.
After the dance, most of the group had to work, but Carlos and I did not. We decided to venture out and finally get the gifts for our supporters back home. We walked along Nanjing Road, which was mobbed. There were Chinese military on hand for crowd control all along the pedestrian walkway. We gave up on trying to shop there and hopped on the subway to get what we needed from Yu Garden. We found a vendor that would make each of our people a framed papercutting, but he said it would take him an hour to complete them all. In the meantime, Carlos and I went to go get some food. We had to fight through a crowd again to get to a restaurant, but we found one and jumped in. It was another cafeteria style place, but this time you grabbed the dishes that you want, put them on your tray and then paid for what you took before you sat down to eat. We each got a few items each and then went to check out. It was pretty expensive compared to the other meals that we’d had, and it was so not worth it. Everything was cold, and Chinese food is not good cold. We gave up and went up to the next floor in the building, where there was a bar. The Tsing Tao disinfected my stomach, and Carlos and I bonded over our horrible dining experience. Soon enough, it was time to pick up our paper cuttings. We went back to the hotel after and I promptly fell asleep, I guess the crowds exhausted me. Everything was mostly closed due to the holiday, so a couple of us enjoyed a lovely dinner in the Lobby Restaurant.
- Last day of work! I gave out Thank You letters to the staff that I worked with and got some red pockets (Hongbao) in return. Hongbao are a New Year’s tradition in which people give out little red envelopes of money, ranging in value. One of the managers of the Lobby Restaurant offered to take us out to dinner that evening, which we gladly accepted. I spent most of the time before dinner trying to pack up all of the stuff I purchased in with all of the things I brought. It was a difficult feat, but I finished it just in time to get ready to go to dinner. It turned out that he wanted to take us to Din Tai Fung again; it was a different location than the one we went to in our first week. Again, we let our hosts order for us, and again they made the best choices. We had our beer of choice (Tsing Tao), assorted vegetables, jellyfish, chicken, and so many dumplings. Everything was amazing, and the company was good too. We were treated to dinner, which continued the trend of how hospitable and kind everyone had been to us during our trip. We decided to take them out to drinks to thank them, so we went back to Muse since it was right by the hotel. It turned out to be a pretty solid last hoorah in Shanghai.
- We left Shanghai at 5:00pm on February 21, and landed in Chicago at 10:00pm on February 21, which made for some serious jet lag. Before our flight, we went out to spend the last of our Chinese RMB on Nanjing Road. We met the whole group back at the hotel to take a shuttle back to the airport. We said goodbye to all of our new friends, and they waved to us as we pulled out of the drive. It was a bittersweet exit. We flew out of Pudong Airport, and landed in Dallas an hour before we were to catch our connecting flight to Chicago. Due to some customs issues, we had to run through the airport like Home Alone and catch a tram to the terminal. A few in our group missed the tram, which led to them missing the flight. Luckily, another flight to Chicago left an hour after we did and they were able to catch that one. Once back in my city, all I wanted was a glass of wine and some pizza, which was lovingly provided for me by my better half. Despite sleeping most of the plane ride home, I passed out right after the pizza (only to wake up again 3:00am, damn it jetlag).Shanghai was an amazing adventure full of tradition, interesting (and mostly delicious) cuisine, gorgeous architecture, and beautiful people. I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences I had there and I was so lucky to have such a great group of people with me. We went so many places and saw so much, yet there’s still more of Shanghai to be seen. I can not wait to go back and explore more.